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Bigs lead way for UNC men's basketball over Northern Iowa

Kennedy Meeks (3) goes up for a basket between UNI defenders. 

Kennedy Meeks (3) goes up for a basket between UNI defenders. 

In the North Carolina men’s basketball team’s 85-42 routing of Northern Iowa on Wednesday night, it was all about the bigs.

The Panthers elected to double team North Carolina’s forwards any time they got the ball on the block. And with just over three minutes left in the opening period, the No. 8 Tar Heels led by just one.

“In the first half, they were doubling big to big,” head coach Roy Williams said. “You’ve either got to make a quick move or throw it out. And I think we let that bother us more than it did in the second half.”

Justin Jackson said dealing with the double teams isn’t something they practice a lot, but Williams trusts his players’ court awareness.

“(Kennedy Meeks) made some great plays out of the post, one leading to a dunk, I know one led to a 3-point shot,” Jackson said. “So they are basketball players. There is a reason why we were recruited to come here, and so Coach gives them the freedom — if they double, you’ve got to make a good decision.”

Meeks was credited with two assists but completed many more strong passes from the post, keeping the offense humming along. He also got to the free-throw line nine times and son his way to leading the Tar Heels with 18 points, pacing UNC in scoring for the first time this season and the 14th time in his career.

One pass out of a double in the second half led to the play of the day, a massive Isaiah Hicks dunk. Hicks didn’t see the Panthers' Juwan McCloud until he was already in the air — or until it was too late.

“Then I realized like he really tried to block it,” Hicks said. “I thought he was going to do one of them fakes, get out of the way types.”

Hicks proceeded to stare down McCloud as he backpedaled away from the basket. It’s a little bit out of character for the senior forward.

“Isaiah never says anything,” Jackson said. “So to see him do that little stare down, and I looked back up there at the Jumbotron, and he kind of stared him down a little bit. To see that, that was pretty funny.”

Hicks, smiling, pleaded guilty to the crime after the game.

“Yeah, just happens,” he said.

It "just happened" for Brice Johnson, the dunk and subsequent scream that seemed to suck the life out of any opponent last season. The quiet, introverted senior Hicks takes after Johnson’s lead and showcases a bit of personality when he slams it into the basket.

After North Carolina’s 84-73 win over Davidson on Dec. 7, Hicks jokingly declared himself the team’s best dunker. Wednesday night’s slam — which promptly lit up the Dean Dome and drained Northern Iowa of any remaining wisps of breath — only helped that case.

“Oh man, I loved it,” Joel Berry said. “That’s what we want from Isaiah. When he’s being aggressive like that, there’s no stopping him.”

That will be a key for UNC’s success this season — the bigs stepping up in all phases and a touch of fire from even the most unlikely of sources.


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